Sienna sat deep in a corner booth. Her hands clutched Pietr and Ivan Koskov. Sophie sat just to her right, leaning in. The three children leaned in to their adoptive godmother, sensing her fear and trying to both gain protection and give comfort. Sienna herself was dressed in a dark red gown, with a thin black cloak for propriety and comfort in the still-cold day.

Lord Canterwright stood just a few steps apart, and nodded to them. “They have come to my home, and my establishment that I gave this town in order to inspire a better place for conversation. Not a rabble to scream to the rafters.”

The man cowered, and remained bowed. “But the countess. She has done great evil.”

“But this is not the forum,” Canterwright said. “You are vulgar, and verbose. Let my men take you and give you a chance to clear your head.”

Nodding, the man was led away. There was a round of cheers and applause for Canterwright. He smiled, bowed, and returned to his seat.

“My apologies, Sienna,” He said. “I cannot abide such rudeness.”

Sienna nodded. She did not like the fact that many were now talking about it.

“Dreadful business,” Canterwright said. “Talking up a rabble. And Viola in her first year, with barely a chance to defend herself.”

“Then you should say something,” Sophie muttered.

Sienna’s hand clamped over the girl’s mouth, and she giggled. “Canterwright, I am sorry for my ward’s outburst.”

“Not at all.” Sienna removed the hand, and Canterwright looked the girl in the eye. “Freedom to express different opinions is the foundation of a society. If we are afraid to speak, then we are afraid to know truth. And without truth, how can we live?”

He gestured around him. “I do not use my entire house, have never needed to. And so had the first floor turned into a taproom for the rabble. It generates some small income, but far more importantly it generated debate. The common man, free to tell his story, to air his grievances before they could fester. Is this not how it is meant to be, in the Countess’ new world?”

Sienna gathered up the children, and pushed her way out of the seat. “Just make sure that grievances are merely spoken, Lord Canterwright, no more.”

The lord bowed low. “Sienna, if I have offended…”

Sienna held up a hand. “No. no…not at all, milord. I simply find myself overtired by this spectacle. And the children have their studies to return to.”

“But you said…” Pietr started to protest, before Sophie’s foot somehow found itself in his shin.

“Studies such as horseback riding and archery…” Sienna winked at the boys. “I think we all must have a well-rounded education, now, don’t we?”

“Yes, Sienna.” The children chorused.

Sienna pulled Canterwright in for a close hug, surprising him. “But I cannot leave without a promise for a real dinner, sometime soon?” she asked.

Canterwright laughed, and returned the hug. “Of course, Sienna, it would be my pleasure.”

Sienna squealed, and pecked him on the cheek. “Come along, children. We mustn’t keep Lord Smyth and his teachers waiting.”

Sienna did not let her mood darken until she was out the door. She caught a last glance at the sign above the entrance, and sneered.

“The Serpent and Rose. Accurate.”

copyright 2018 Jack Holder

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